Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi has backed talks between Iran and six world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal but flatly rejected meeting US President Joe Biden, even if Washington removed all sanctions.
In his first news conference since he was elected on Friday, the hardline cleric said his foreign policy priority would be improving ties with Iran’s Gulf Arab neighbours, while calling on Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia to immediately halt its intervention in Yemen.
Mr Raisi, 60, a strident critic of the West, will take over from pragmatist Hassan Rouhani on August 3 as Iran seeks to salvage the tattered nuclear deal and be rid of punishing US sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
“We support the negotiations that guarantee our national interests … America should immediately return to the deal and fulfil its obligations under the deal,” he said.
However, he warned that the negotiations should not be dragged out.
“We will not allow negotiations to be for negotiations’ sake,” Mr Raisi said.
“Negotiations should not be dragged out but each sitting should bear results.
“A result-oriented [negotiation] is important to us and it should have an outcome for the Iranian nation.”
Negotiations have been under way in Vienna since April to work out how Iran and the US can both return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which Washington abandoned in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump before reimposing sanctions on Iran.
Iran has subsequently breached the deal’s limits on enrichment of uranium, designed to minimise the risk of it developing nuclear weapons potential.
Tehran has long denied having any such ambition.
Mr Raisi said Iran’s foreign policy would not be limited to the nuclear deal, adding that “all US sanctions must be lifted and verified by Tehran”.
Iranian and Western officials alike say Mr Raisi’s rise is unlikely to change Iran’s negotiating stance in talks to revive the nuclear deal.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all major policy.
Asked if he would meet Mr Biden if those sanctions were lifted, Mr Raisi answered: “No.”
The press conference came after Iran’s sole nuclear power plant underwent an unexplained temporary emergency shutdown on the weekend.
US has no plans for meeting of leaders
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that little had changed because Mr Khamenei was the key decision maker in Tehran.
“We don’t currently have any diplomatic relations with Iran or any plans to meet at the leader level,” she told reporters.
“Our view is that the decision-maker here is the Supreme Leader.”
Ms Psaki said negotiators had concluded a sixth round of talks about how Iran and the United States could both return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear pact.
The White House, she said, would be “looking forward to seeing where that goes” but that they could not predict when or if a deal would be reached.